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Home Repair and Weatherization: Critical to a Growing Philadelphia

Home Repair and Weatherization: Critical to a Growing Philadelphia

By Rocky Font-Soloway

Our Weatherization and Home Repair Program (WHRP) reached its latest milestone in January, completing its second round of projects in North Philadelphia!  And what exactly is the WHRP, you might ask?  It’s all in the name!  This is a unique program of Habitat Philadelphia that works with homeowners to make their homes more energy-efficient through weatherization practices, and to complete home repairs that are critical for the maintenance and longevity of the home.

WHRP projects take far less time and money than building a house from scratch, so the program expands the Habitat family to new communities beyond our traditional homeownership program.  As in the larger Habitat model, families partnering with WHRP pay for improvements through low- or no-interest loans, and put in sweat equity hours on the project with volunteers and staff.  Through this, partner families learn about general home maintenance skills and weatherization techniques.

Our second round of projects served 15 families in North Philadelphia, and after completing the work we conducted energy audits on every home.  An energy audit is a set of tests on a building that measure its overall energy efficiency—a comprehensive snapshot of its efficiency.  We audit each home before we start work, then again when we finish, and we can compare the results to determine how successful we’ve been in increasing the overall efficiency of the home.  We look for tightly sealed doors and windows, gas lines that don’t leak, a warmer second floor (as a result of better attic insulation), and up-to-date and properly functioning furnaces and hot water heatersAnd after a few months, we check in with homeowners again about the changes in their utility bills to see just how much money they are saving every month.  We’ve already seen great results—an average 24% increase in efficiency!  That’s a huge leap, and something to be proud of!

But why does it really matter?  Weatherization is a hot topic these days—we’re all working to save our environment through green, energy-saving practices.  Home weatherization can also save a significant amount of money by decreasing utility usage (i.e. gas/oil, electric, and water).  Here are some of the standard improvements we make to home utility systems:

-replacing old light bulbs with CFL bulbs

-installing rubber gaskets around doors and windows to stop air drafts

-cleaning out and air-sealing vents to help hot air travel through the house more efficiently

-installing low-flow shower-heads and faucet aerators that decrease water volume but maintain water pressure

-increasing/improving insulation

…and the list goes on!  Another common WHRP project is basement wall “parging”.  If the inside walls of a basement are disintegrating because of moisture and age (as so many basement walls in Philadelphia are), we can slather the walls with mortar and apply a water-proof paint on top.

Drexel University’s Habitat Campus Chapter parging the basement walls.

Sharon parging her basement–next comes water-proof paint.

This reinforces the walls and impedes moisture, giving homeowners a dryer, longer-lasting, and ultimately healthier basement.  In this last group of projects, we had a number of very successful volunteer workdays parging with homeowners in their basements (and getting very messy with mortar!).

Critical home repairs are another huge part of WHRP.  This where the more advanced construction skills come into play, and we’re very lucky to work with skilled volunteers who come out to help.  On our most recent projects we replaced several old, drafty or broken windows with new vinyl double-paned windows with help from Tom Macintosh, a volunteer and former AmeriCorps member at Habitat who got lots of practice installing windows during his two years of service with us.

We also invite volunteer teams to help with repair projects!  We recently replaced an old concrete patio in a homeowner’s backyard, which was pitched toward the house and funneled water into the basement during storms. We got out the pickaxes and sledgehammers, tore up the concrete, and replaced it with an appropriately graded concrete slab and drain.

Volunteer Paul and Homeowner Eric taking charge of the demolition!

Freshly-poured cement! It’s a beautiful thing.

The finished product: a new patio guides rainwater away from the house and helps the basement stay dry!

It was a fantastic volunteer-powered project—a few days of hard work made a huge difference, and the homeowner was thrilled to finally have a dry basement!

Finally, WHRP updates and installs new safety equipment throughout the houses we work on.  These include smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor and a kitchen fire extinguisher.  We also conduct a radon test and a lead paint test (if needed) to ensure that the homeowner is aware of any hazardous materials in their home.  Besides reducing utility bills and making repairs, it’s crucial that families stay (and feel) safe in their homes.

As per the usual fast-paced Habitat schedule, we’re already accepting applications from homeowners for our next round of projects this Spring!  Keep WHRP in mind as you’re looking for volunteer days, and please contact us directly at if you are skilled in electrical, plumbing, masonry, roofing, or carpentry work.  We look forward to seeing you!